She had to sleep on it. The letter was in her inbox; friends and colleagues, throughout the Republican national-security circles where Rebeccah Heinrichs had made her career, were signing on. It called then-candidate Donald Trump “fundamentally dishonest” and claimed that if elected president, he would use his power “in ways that make America less safe.” She wasn’t crazy about the tone in some spots, but she also didn’t think he was a credible candidate. Only a few other Republicans were left in the primary back then in March 2016—and she thought a letter like this, with its roll call of GOP luminaries, could help nudge voters to pick someone more responsible.
“I made the decision based on the information I had,” she told me recently. She doesn’t regret signing the letter, but now thinks that many of the worries she and her colleagues were expressing then—in warning about Trump’s isolationism, the potential economic effects of his trade policies, and his embrace of the “expansive use of torture,” among other things—were unfounded. And she is thrilled about that.
Heinrichs is an exception in the old GOP national-security world—which for the most part has stuck to its Never Trump positions—but she’s the norm in the party as a whole, which gives Trump a 94 percent approval rating. The 150-odd names on letters such as the one she signed represent the last major bastion of Republican resistance to Trump; prominent members continue to slam the president for his insulting tweets and his volatile temperament, even questioning his very ability to behave like an adult. But outside of this club—whether for reasons of ambition, genuine approval, or a combination of both—elected officials and operatives have largely fallen in line behind the president. And Heinrichs, unlike many of her peers, decided she could accept the character flaws because the foreign-policy results looked good.